Foxglove

I OPEN the kennel run door and the whole litter spills out into the grass paddock. Working dog pups, bred in the purple, from generations of sound and useful stock. Young as they are, as soon as they reach the pen, they have noses down and are checking the boundaries, except, that is, for those who are checking me, for they are sociable creatures.

This does not happen by accident, but is the work of a good breeder, who has put many hours into them. I study them while, in the background, I hear the crack of water against concrete, and vigorous sweeping.

A pleasant tang of disinfectant hangs in the air: not too much for that would be distressing for such fine noses. Human standards and canine preferences can be very different.

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Sitting comfortably on a tree stump, I am swamped in small plump velvet-furred beasties, with tiny wet noses and eagerly-wagging tails. Teeth are needle-sharp, pulling at my clothing, which is the kind where damage does not matter, for I have spent time with litters of puppies before, and dressed appropriately. I bought this coat second-hand seventeen years ago, and it is a little worn now.

The pups would like to lick my face, an unhygienic procedure, probably for both parties, but one which I am happy to indulge. They would like to climb onto my lap, but not to rest, for, like ferrets, they seem to want to go as high as possible.

As a puppy on the shoulders is not as safe as a puppy should be, I ease the latest one off and lower her gently back onto the ground. She rolls on her back, grinning, exposing a shell-pink belly.

For full feature see West Sussex Gazette December 31